Tuesday, January 21, 2014


ARO, KATIMYAS NA NITANG LALAKE! A man from Sta. Ana, curiously dressed in women's clothes and with a head covering to match, strikes a pose between two ladies. Ca. 1930s.

A few years back, I was leafing over my Apung Tiri’s old expense ledgers dating back from the 1940s. Apung Tiri was my grandmother from my father’s side whom I have never met (she died in 1952, before I was born), and she was known for being fastidious about household expenses, writing down every money spent, every debt paid, and every cash advanced.

 Several entries in her journal piqued my interest especially those parts that mentioned her payments to “Juan Bacla”, apparently a tailor who made pants and shirts for Apung Tiri’s boys, sons Manuel, Mateo and Gerardo, my late father. Descriptive labels appended to people’s names were commonplace in the old days, and I remember people in the neighbourhood called Inggong Taba, Tsoglung Intsik and Rey Duling.

I was not prepared to see a “Juan Bacla” in my Apu’s old ledger, for I thought people then were not as open with their sexual orientations, making me wonder if “Juan Bacla” was already as swishy and as flamboyant back in the ‘30s as today’s Vice Ganda.

 As early as the 19th century, however, gayness was known and observed in the Philippines; a Spanish photographer, Felix Laureano, even shot a photo of a gay lavandera in the company of 3 washerwomen, He writes of the photo: mentioned “Three dalagas and a tao, sitting on the green grass beside the river and washing clothes, their minute feet being lapped by the crystal clear current. The tao, who can be identified by his manners, is binabayi, agui, and has the balutan of dirty clothes near him.”

 “Binabayi” was a general term to describe effeminate people—and at one point, even our national hero, Jose Rizal was labelled as one. “Bakla”is another appellation, but its deeper meaning is “to weaken”, hence a line in a Pasyon describes “si Kristo ay nababakla..”.

 In Minalin, there is a quaint festival involving cross-dressing—the Aguman Sanduk (Fellowship of the Ladle) . Started in 1934 by a group of drunken Minalin revelers who thought of a way to brighten up the New Year. The macho men dared each other to dress up in women’s clothes and parade on the main street. The culminating activity was the election of the Aguman muse—the ugliest of the cross-dressers. The honor of becoming the first queen went to husky Hilarion Serrano, who oldtimers remembered as “pekamatsura, maragul atyan, and delanan ane lupa” (the ugliest, pot-bellied, termite-ridden face).

 The celebration was capped with cultural activities “crissotan”competitions, and partaking of “lelut manuk”(chicken porridge). It is remarkable that the participants are all hot-blooded, heterosexual males. In the ensuing years, the Aguman Sanduk has grown even wilder and more daring: men and boys go on a beautifying frenzy: unabashedly donning blonde wigs, putting on fake lashes and mascaras and wearing brassieres in preparation for the New Year’s Day parade.

 On that much awaited day, the men in their micro-minis, sequinned evening gowns and outlandish costumes turn on their coquettish charms as they take to the streets—walking, dancing, sashaying in a spectacle in transvestism that would put any Miss Universe contestant to shame. On the sidestreets, the women cheer their men, husbands, sons and fathers as the freaky procession of pulchritude wends its way around town.

 Kapampangans have embraced this unique festival to this day, an original cultural tradition that pays tribute by poking fun at the ideals of machismo and beauty melded together in one celebration—two qualities that are valued by Kapampangans like no other. But Aguman Sanduk may also be looked at as a festival of liberation from gender discrimination and repression, expressed in gay abandon for all the world to see and eventually, accept, the way Kapampangans have.

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